Jack Flaherty, thought of in some circles as a pitcher who would be the Cardinals’ ace this year, began the season with three wins in April (excluding a start in March) but then dipped to one victory in May. As the 23-year-old righthander made his final start of June on Tuesday night, he was 0 for the month and winless in 41 days.
In five of his past six outings, Flaherty hadn’t had a decision but had pitched well in a few of them. But on Tuesday, two nasty habits turned up again — Flaherty’s penchants for allowing home runs and giving up leads.
The Oakland Athletics cracked three homers, two in a six-run fifth inning, and Flaherty — who has permitted 18 home runs in 16 starts — lost a multi-run lead for the fifth time this season as the A’s beat the Cardinals 7-3 at Busch Stadium.
Flaherty, now 4-5, trying to explain the poor fifth, said, “It just comes down to execution.”
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt called it “inconsistent command.”
Oakland starter Chris Bassitt labored through 3 1/3 innings and 95 pitches, including four walks. The Cardinals, helped by Matt Carpenter’s two-run triple that could have been caught, scored three runs in the second and got Bassitt out of the game in the fourth. But they stranded four runners in scoring position the rest of the way, including twice failing to deliver a runner from third base and under two outs.
The A’s scored first, in the second, when lefthanded-hitting Matt Olson hit an opposite-field homer to left, his 13th, off a Flaherty fastball.
With runners at second and third and two out in the second, Carpenter hit a shot to center on Bassitt’s 61st pitch. It appeared that center fielder Ramon Laureano had a bead on the drive but as he approached the wall he got tangled up and fell, swiping at the ball and knocking it away with his glove as the ball rolled 70 feet away.
The triple scored two runs and Paul DeJong, who had been nothing for 16, bounced a double over the left-field wall for a third run. Bassitt had issued his third walk of the game, a one-out pass to Dexter Fowler, after Yadier Molina had singled.
“We wanted to get (Bassitt) out of the game early and scoring three runs off a starter is usually a good sign,” DeJong said. “I didn’t think we missed too many opportunities early. It was more about just adding on late.”
In the A’s fifth, Josh Phegley doubled to left and Chad Pinder, just inserted in a double switch by manager Bob Melvin, cracked his seventh homer to left to tie the score. Quickly, Marcus Semien hit his 11th homer and the A's 124th in 80 games. It went to dead center to put the A’s ahead after Flaherty had been ahead of him at 0-2 — “and then you throw a really bad pitch.”
Shildt had a ready explanation for Flaherty’s home-run issue. The righthander has given up nine homers in his past five starts and Shildt said the recurring theme was “probably balls in the middle of the plate.”
The A’s weren’t finished. Stephen Piscotty singled with two out to drive in another run and Melvin sent up Khris Davis, normally his designated hitter, as a pinch-hitter — an early call for his top slugger. Shildt went to the mound to replace Flaherty, who fired the ball out of play past Shildt.
Because the pitcher traditionally hands the ball to the manager when he’s taken out, home-plate umpire Gabe Morales tossed one to catcher Molina, who missed it, but picked it up and flipped it to Flaherty, who then properly handed the ball to Shildt and departed.
“I was like, ‘I don’t need this ball,’” Flaherty said. But he thought, “I probably should get one and give it to ‘Shildty.’ My time was done but I felt the need to give him one.”
Davis made this Melvin move look good, too, by doubling home two runs against John Brebbia, who has allowed runs to score — either his or somebody else’s — in his last four outings.
Flaherty, who gave up a career high in runs at seven, lamented the 0-2 pitch to Semien the most. But he is very conscious of letting leads get away.
“Any time the offense goes out and gets a lead like that — they made that guy (Bassitt) work — and then you kind of find yourself turning it right back over,” Flaherty said. “That’s frustrating. It’s not a comforting thing. Those guys work hard and continue to do their job. I’ve got to find a way to continue to execute and just not worry about things.”
The Cardinals, after their burst in the second, had a chance in the fourth with runners at first and second and one out. But Carpenter struck out and DeJong popped up.
In the fifth, Marcell Ozuna singles and Jose Martinez singled him to third with one out. But Molina and Fowler struck out. In the eighth, Fowler and pinch-hitter Tommy Edman singled. But Carpenter flied to left.
In the ninth, DeJong and Ozuna singled. But, with men at first and third, Martinez fanned and so did Molina.
“We had one big inning and we didn’t have another one,” Carpenter said.
“They got (six) runs in one inning and we weren’t able to answer back.”
Shildt, happy with his team’s early hitting approach, said, “We got three runs. Could we have had a few more? Yeah, we’d like to have a few more but you’re in their bullpen in the fourth with one out and you feel pretty good about it. “And then after that . . .
“First and second, one out. First and third, one out. Second and third and one out. And we don’t score. We’ve got to add on. When we’re down, we’ve got to be able to chip away and come back.
“You look at this chicken-and-egg proposition. Good at-bats to get in those situations. But you’ve got to keep the line moving, take the good at-bats, to bring people in.”
The Cardinals’ bullpen retired the final 13 A’s hitters. But, in 13 games after off days this year, the Cardinals are 3-10.